Winnie M Li – Q&A

Today I’m pleased to welcome Winnie M Li to the blog. Winnie’s debut novel Dark Chapter was published by Legend Press on 1 June 2017 and is shortlisted for the 2017 Not The Booker prize run by The Guardian newspaper.

Winnie kindly answered a few of my questions.

1. Tell us a little about Dark Chapter.

It’s about a crime, and the two people who are connected by that crime: the victim and the perpetrator. They are complete strangers, and their lives intersect almost by random, during that act of violence. So I explore their individual lives before that event, you see the crime from both perspectives, and then how both their lives continue to be affected ever afterwards.

2. What inspired the book?

Something that happened to me in 2008. On a Saturday afternoon in a Belfast park, I was violently assaulted and raped by a 15-year-old boy, who had been following me. Even though I was one of those rare rape victims who had the benefit of seeing their rapist legally convicted, a lot of questions remained about that 15-year-old stranger. I wondered what had happened in his life to commit such an act of violence, which then had such a destructive and indelible impact on my own life. 

3. Are you a plan, plan, plan writer or do you sit down and see where the words take you? How long does the process take you from first line to completed novel? 

I’m in between! Writing Dark Chapter, I had an idea of the overall plot and character arcs, so there was that much planned.  But when it came to writing individual scenes, I would see where the words took me — and sometimes smaller plot developments would come from that experimenting.  At the end of the day, everything comes from knowing your characters well. So if you put your characters in situation x, y, z, you should know how they’ll react — and the plot develops from there. It took me about a year and 10 months to write Dark Chapter, which included a few months’ break here and there. 

4. What have you discovered about the process of creating a novel that surprised you?

It’s so much hard work.  And such a solitary undertaking.  I’d always loved writing from a young age, so even though I enjoyed the creative freedom that came with writing each scene, I had to really discipline myself to make sure I was progressing on the novel. When I was in writing mode, I wouldn’t let myself leave the house until I’d written my daily 1000 words… which, combined with my procrastination tendencies, resulted in a lot of cabin fever! 

5. How does it feel to be shortlisted for the 2017 Not the Booker? What does it mean to be recognized this way?

It’s really gratifying to be shortlisted, but also a bit terrifying. As a writer, you want so much for other people to read your work and appreciate it.  And I’ve been lucky to have that many readers vote on Dark Chapter to result in the shortlisting. But then when I realised a lot of Guardian readers were going to start discussing my novel and assessing its merits and weaknesses, I also realised that it’s quite scary to have a something you’ve worked so hard on be judged in that way. Still, I wrote the novel largely to generate public discussion about rape and sexual assault, so if I can use my own trauma and my own vulnerability to do that, then I think the overall result is worth it. 

6. What do you do when you aren’t writing? What do you do to relax and get away from it all? 

I love traveling and I love hiking. In the ideal world, I’d show up in some foreign country, get on a train by myself, and watch the landscape roll past. There’s nothing more exhilarating for me than that sense of exploration and adventure.  If I can’t go somewhere foreign, then just walking on my own through a landscape or cityscape is fascinating for me. After I was raped while hiking in 2008, I never thought I’d be able to hike again. But with time and a lot of personal ‘work,’ I was thankfully able to reclaim that part of my life. 

7. If you could only read one book for the rest of your life which book would it be? 

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

8. I like to end my Q&A’s with the same question so here we go. During all the Q&As and interviews you’ve done what question have you not been asked that you wish had been asked – and what’s the answer? 

What’s the hardest thing about being a writer?

The financial part.  It’s virtually impossible to live in London on a novelist’s salary, and that financial stress takes up a lot of unwanted head-space and energy. I wish there weren’t so much pressure to earn a living through writing, because then I could free my mind to focus on the important part of being an author: the craft and the creativity.  Unfortunately, unless there’s massive shifts in the publishing industry, I don’t think this is going to change. So support your writer friends!  And if you can, buy lots of books!

About the book

Vivian is a cosmopolitan Taiwanese-American tourist who often escapes her busy life in London through adventure and travel. Johnny is a 15-year-old Irish teenager, living a neglected life on the margins of society. On a bright spring afternoon in West Belfast, their paths collide during a horrifying act of violence.

In the aftermath, each is forced to confront the chain of events that led to the attack.

Inspired by true events, this is a story of the dark chapters and chance encounters that can irrevocably determine the shape of our lives.

About the author

(Image from Legend Press website)

Winnie M Li is a writer and producer, who has worked in the creative industries on three continents.  A Harvard graduate, she has written for travel guide books, produced independent feature films, programmed for film festivals, and developed eco-tourism projects. After graduating with Distinction in Creative Writing at Goldsmiths (where she was shortlisted for the Pat Kavanagh Prize 2015), she now currently writes across a range of media (including a column for The Huffington Post), runs arts festivals, and is a PhD researcher in Media and Communications at the London School of Economics. She was Highly Commended for the CWA Debut Dagger 2015 and also shortlisted for the Emma Humphreys Memorial Prize.  She lives in London yet is somewhat addicted to travel. Dark Chapter is her first novel.

Follow Winnie on Twitter at @winniemli, online at and one Facebook

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